Creative Series: TOP 5 Productivity Tips for Creative
I’m a creative, I’m messy, my two (yes, two!) desks are a mess most of the time, I like to work intuitively, and yeah I’m not going to lie, I’ve never been the type A kind of person who’s super organized + productive all the time - and I think I will never be.
But being a creative business owner taught me I must be at least a little organized to make the most out of my 24 hours a day, if I want to make things happen and actually move towards my dreams.
I still cringe when I remember how many hours I spent planning with post-it notes, to find them in the trash a week after that. Or how many days I stayed on bed half-asleep + half-awake asking myself ‘what should I do today?’, to actually get up after 11 am with no answer to my question. Or worst, how many times I doubted myself when I thought I didn’t belong to the entrepreneurial path because I wasn’t 100% productive all day, every day.
I know it’s harder for some of us to keep focused + be organized + stay productive than it is for others, so I want to share with you some of the things that have been huge game changers for me (a messy creative rebel) to do more and stress less.
... a messy creative rebel
Ready? Here we go!
1 | Do work according to your energy levels
When I wake up I can’t really focus on anything other than breathing, and I can’t make use of caffeine because my stomach gets sick. At the beginning, I used to battle this by getting angry with myself and researching + trying every bit of tip on how to wake up super energized, but nothing worked.
Then, during my quest to finding a way to become more productive, I read something (somewhere) about energy levels, and I started to put attention to my own energy levels. I tracked how I felt during the day, at what time I felt more creative + energetic, and at what time I didn’t function properly. The results weren’t anything I didn’t know before: I’m just not a morning person :P
So, instead of getting mad at myself and wasting time trying to be something I’m not, I started to use my energy levels to my advantage. And now I divide my days by AM + PM work.
- AM work, which starts an hour after I wake up, is all about the admin stuff of running my business like scheduling on Pinterest + Instagram, responding to emails + inquiries with canned responses, scheduling posts, or doing minor changes to illustrations or patterns.
- PM work, which comes after lunch, is all about the work that needs my full attention like creating illustrations + textile designs, having client and/or mentoring meetings, creating written + video content, or creating new printable planners + products.
Doing this has taken a lot of pressure off my shoulders, and now I can focus all of my energy into creating instead of wasting it trying to be productive + energetic all day long.
Are you an AM or PM type of person?
2 | Focus on one main goal per week.
I’m a freelance fashion illustrator + textile pattern designer, I teach and mentor other fashion creatives, and I run an Etsy shop. These three phases of my business are very demanding, and they all require taking care of them differently. So, it’s no surprise I love simple, especially when it comes to managing my business + planning, simple is my best friend. That’s why I theme my weeks with a main goal in mind instead of juggling different things each day of the week.
For example, this is how I theme every week of every month:
Week 1: Client work
Week 2: Mentoring meetings
Week 3: Etsy shop
Week 4: Content creation / My own projects
- Week one is all about client work, so during my PM work time (which is when I feel the most energetic), I take care of all my client work like illustration, design, and meetings.
- Week two is for mentoring work + meetings. During this week, I take care of all my mentoring clients of the month, I hop on calls with them, I prepare their mentoring notes + replays, and I create any extra materials for them.
- Week three is all about my Etsy shop. This week, I create + list new products, I create mockups or take photographs, I do SEO research, I make + schedule Pinterest graphics, and I make any necessary adjustments.
- Week four changes from one month to another. I like to create content for my blog + YouTube channel + email list every 8-10 weeks. So one month I’ll be creating + scheduling blog posts, videos, and emails, while on another month I’ll be taking care of a personal project like a fashion illustration collection, improving my portfolio, or networking + meeting with other creatives.
I write the tasks and to-do list for each day of the week (according to the theme of the current week), the night before, but when I’m feeling super energetic and ‘in the zone’ I even plan + write each day’s to-do list on a Sunday afternoon.
Do you "theme" your weeks?
3 | Set up your workspace the day before
As I mentioned before, I barely function in the mornings, so something that has helped me big time is to know exactly what I will do the next day + what things I will need to do my job (tools, laptop, whatever) so that I can set everything up the night before and get it all ready on my desk.
This way, I only need to wake up, read my to-do list for my AM work, and start working. And, the same happens for PM work, I set up my workspace before leaving for lunch, and when I get back I read the to-do list I wrote the night before and I start working.
4 | Use planning tools that work for you
Digital planning apps have become very popular lately, but that doesn’t mean they’re for everyone. I tried to adjust my planning to Trello, Evernote, and Asana - all of them promised to make my life easier, but they came with a learning curve, and none of them convinced me (at least not completely).
I’m the kind of girl who LOVES to write things down, especially plans + goals + action steps. I don’t know how writing on my binder makes my brain work better + connect my plans to actual steps, but it’s something that works for me. And it gets even better + easier when I combine the power of my printable planners with Trello boards, by turning them into step-by-step workflows for client work + content creation + products creation.
So, it doesn’t matter what tools the most productive person you know is using, if you want to be more organized you need to make sure you’re using the tools that make the planning work easy + comfortable for you, whether you’re a paper or digital kind of person, or both.
Are you a Paper + Pen or a Digital type of gal/guy (no favorites, here!) ?
5 | Have an ‘end work’ time
Finally, this has been a huge game changer for me, if not the thing I’ve implemented that has brought me the biggest + best results.
Stop working at a certain time every day, and just do life.
Up until six months ago, I used to work from the moment I woke up till 10pm or so, I had lunch breaks but never real time for myself. Having such an exhausting routine was overwhelming, extremely stressful, and draining. I couldn’t have inspired moments of creativity because I didn’t make any space for them - my schedule was full all the time (whether I was actually making progress or not). And, of course, my body couldn’t handle such pressure.
When I found myself at the hospital, almost paralyzed from head to toe, and with difficulty to breath, I realized it was time to stop the I-got-to-do-all-the-self-imposed-1000-things-in-a-day frenzy. I understood that even work + growing a business needed to have some limits, and that I really needed to take care of myself first if I wanted anything in my business (and life) to work!
So, I started to implement actually stopping and only working until 5-6pm. And I began to do things that I enjoy and aren’t related to work like working out or going for a walk with my husband, playing with my pups, calling my mom or sister, going on a date with hubby, trying a new DIY natural face mask, or simply watching some Netflix.
At the beginning I was afraid that I wouldn’t do as many things as I could, and that I might not be as productive as I wanted, but doing things that aren’t related to my business add so much more to it than trying to do only things from my business to-do list. And, what’s even more important, doing things that aren’t related to my business means that I’m actually living not just working, and that makes me wake up feeling my best + refreshed + ready for the new day.
So, here they are my top five tips on how to make the most out of your time and keep yourself productive as a creative entrepreneur. Hope you like them and make them yours by tweaking + adjusting them to yourself, your business, and schedule.
Hey, You! Don't forget to just do life!
Wasn't that an awesome post? Karen has made us all look at our schedule and productivity from a whole 'nother perspective, hasn't she? I personally loved collaborating with her on this post as workflow + productivity is definitely something I work on with my creative clients (all my clients, by the way, 'cause everyone's creative in their own special way)! I know the effects "a hot mess workflow" can have on a business, and most importantly, on that bottom line! Being productive and having a workflow that works for you and your business will make you more efficient and will allow you to take on more clients and handle more. If you can't find a way to be productive in your business when there are few to no clients, it'll be even harder to do so when your clients are demanding of your attention. Not being able to take on more clients, will result in loss of profits and this is definitely a problem if you plan to grow your creative hustle! Not just that, everything you do and how you do it either screams "I've got this and I'm composed and giving it my all" or "I'm totally frazzled, so busy, and don't even know where to start". Being productive in your own business speaks to your clients about how you will handle working with them in their business!
Karen Avila is a self-taught fashion illustrator and surface pattern designer. She studied industrial design, and before graduating she launched her freelance business as a fashion creative. After five years working as a freelancer she founded Fashion Step-by-Step to mentor, teach, and inspire aspiring fashion designers and illustrators. She's on a mission to help them embrace + trust + use their talents. She teaches and educates through her YouTube channel, her blog, free email courses, and her premium courses at the Fashion School. And she creates printable planners for artist, makers, and creatives to help them make their dream business a reality.